We have previously described a panel of human small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) cell lines that have profound glucocorticoid resistance, resulting from various molecular defects in glucocorticoid signalling. However, in one SCLC cell line, CORL103, the cause of the resistance is unknown. These cells are refractory to dexamethasone stimulation of MMTV even when exogenous wild-type glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is co-transfected. This is in contrast to cell lines DMS79 and CORL24 where resistance is overcome by transfection of the wild-type receptor. Sequencing of the GR from CORL103 cells revealed two point mutations, but neither of these induced dominant negative activity. Steroid hormone resistance extended to mineralocorticoid and progesterone receptor (MR, PR) activation of MMTV-luc, whereas oestrogen and thyroid hormone receptor transactivation were normal. A simpler reporter, TAT3-luc, containing three copies of the tyrosine aminotransferase glucocorticoid response element (GRE), was responsive when transfected into CORL103 cells with GR, MR and PR expression vectors and activated with their respective ligands. Similarly, pHH-luc and pAH-luc (truncated MMTV variants containing the GRE region, both derived from a different strain of MMTV), were effectively transactivated with dexamethasone. This suggests that the minor changes in the flanking sequence of the MMTV promoter are critically important in determining steroid responsiveness in CORL103 cells. We propose that minor differences in MMTV may determine recruitment of co-factors, which destabilise GR binding to the MMTV GREs. These findings represent a new, selective, model of glucocorticoid resistance that may explain specific cell and target gene differences in glucocorticoid sensitivity.
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